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Miami Heat

Stat Just Happened: The Miami Heat have turned Bam Adebayo into their version of Nikola Jokic

"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

Today, Miami Heat centre Bam Adebayo takes the spotlight.

13.6

According to NBA.com, that's how many points per game Bam Adebayo is creating for his teammates with his assists this season.

Why is that noteworthy? It's the second-most at his position, trailing only Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic, who might just be the best passing big man of all-time.

In fact, the 13.6 points per game Adebayo is creating for his teammates this season is the second-highest total from a centre since 2013-14, which is as far back as the NBA's tracking data goes. Neither Joakim Noah nor Al Horford reached the heights Adebayo has as a facilitator this season, a scary thought considering he is still only 22 years old.

That figure stacks up well with players at other positions as well. Adebayo's 13.6 assist points created puts him on the same page as the likes of Joe Ingles (13.8), Kawhi Leonard (13.1), Rajon Rondo (13.1) and Kemba Walker (12.4) to name a few.

In other words, Adebayo isn't just a good passer for his position. He's a good passer relative to the rest of the league.

The most prolific passing centres since 2013-14
Player Season Assists Assist Points Created

Nikola Jokic

2019-20 6.9 17.0
Nikola Jokic 2018-19 7.3 17.2
Nikola Jokic 2017-18 6.1 14.4
Bam Adebayo 2019-20 5.1 13.6
Joakim Noah 2013-14 5.4 12.9
DeMarcus Cousins 2017-18 5.4 12.8
Al Horford 2016-17 5.0 12.6
Domantas Sabonis 2019-20 5.0 12.6
Nikola Jokic 2016-17 4.9 12.1

Even though the Heat have a one-time All-Star in Goran Dragic and a five-time All-Star in Jimmy Butler in their backcourt, they run quite a lot of their offence through Adebayo. They like to give him the ball around the elbows to set up handoffs, with Adebayo being the one handing the ball off to Dragic and Butler, as well as Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, as they curl around his screen.

The result: Miami is scoring 10.2 points per game off of handoffs this season, the most in the league by a mile. (The Golden State Warriors average the second-most with 7.2 points per game). The Heat have been incredibly efficient on those plays, ranking in the 97th percentile with 1.06 points per possession.

It's a smart way to use Adebayo considering he still hasn't developed much of a jump shot. He has solid mechanics - the type of mechanics that make you think he will one day become a capable shooter - but he is only 19-for-81 (23.5 percent) from midrange and 1-for-13 (7.7 percent) from 3-point range this season. With him not being a threat to score outside of the paint, putting the ball in his hands is a way of weaponizing him in the halfcourt.

Notice, for example, how LaMarcus Alridge backs off of Adebayo when he receives the ball from Butler on the following possession knowing he isn't all that comfortable shooting from either midrange or the perimeter. It puts Aldridge in better position to protect the rim should someone on the Heat drive to the basket, but it also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Bryn Forbes to get around Adebayo's screen when he hands the ball off to Robinson.

When Forbes gets caught up in that screen, there's nobody in position to prevent Robinson from getting a wide-open 3-pointer.

Now watch what happens later in the same game:

Having been burned by an Adebayo handoff a couple of times in the first half, Aldridge defends him a couple of steps closer. In doing so, it opens up the paint for Butler to make a backdoor cut as San Antonio's other big, Trey Lyles, is focused on Meyers Leonard in the corner. Adebayo reads it perfectly and finds Butler in stride to the basket for his easiest points of the game.

Nasty, right?

What stands out about Adebayo when watching all 333 of his assists from this season is how comfortable he is serving as the fulcrum of Miami's offence. There's nothing robotic about his game. He'll wait patiently for the right pass to open up even when he's presented with an obvious mismatch. He'll push the ball from one side of the court to the other and find the open man while the defence is still getting set. He still doesn't have much of a post-game, but he'll kick it out to a shooter in rhythm when the defence collapses. He'll even sneak passes through the smallest of windows when defences collapse, whether it's on drives or rolls to the basket.

That's not to say Adebayo is perfect - he turns the ball over quite a bit for a centre - but it's hard to argue with his body of work this season. In addition to him putting up the individual numbers that only Jokic can match, Miami's offence has been 5.0 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court. The only players on the Heat with a higher net rating in that regard are Butler (5.2) and Robinson (8.5).

"Offensively, we're running the offence through [Adebayo] more and more," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated at the start of the season. "We started that process last year, but the last three months of the season, he's really improved his playmaking and his passing.

"It seems like every month I can give him something more on his plate and he's been able to take on all of that."

Adebayo's career is still in its infancy, too. He still has plenty of room to grow, whether it's as a shooter or a post-up scorer, both of which would open up the floor for him even more to shine as a passer. He might never reach the levels Jokic has over the last few years, but he's proven to be one of the best passers at the centre position in only his third season with the Heat.

The proof is in that one key number...

13.6

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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